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Hinshelwood, R.D. (1982). Living Groups: Group Psychotherapy and General System Theory: Edited by James E. Durkin. New York: Brunner/Mazel. 1981. Pp. 370.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 63:497-500.

(1982). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 63:497-500

Living Groups: Group Psychotherapy and General System Theory: Edited by James E. Durkin. New York: Brunner/Mazel. 1981. Pp. 370.

Review by:
R. D. Hinshelwood

Almost every form of psychotherapy owes a major debt (often not acknowledged) to psychoanalysis as a background framework of concepts—but not quite all. One other set of theories has contributed to some of the psychotherapies. That set has developed in recent decades in biology, especially molecular biology, and is grouped under the term 'general system theory'—information theory, communication theory, and systems theory. Mostly the contribution has been in family therapy and Bateson, for instance, has derived the double-bind concept (Bateson et al., 1956, 'Towards a theory of schizophrenia', Behavioural Science, 1:251).

It might therefore have been of some interest to psychoanalysts to know about this rival theory. That was my interest in reviewing this book. In fact it turned out a disappointment. It can have very little interest for the practising psychoanalyst, or for the practising group therapist either. Despite its polemical and crusading tone it is actually an exercise in theory.

General system theory (known as GST in this book) was first discovered by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, known as LvB! Yes, this is a heavyweight book relying on important looking initials, arcane neologisms collected in a glossary at the back, and often commonplace ideas ponderously inflated to create a sense of awe. The editor, James Durkin, certainly presents this collection of papers as if he believed it to be a momentous contribution. Perhaps it is—but it is hard to tell from what is presented. Certainly the ambition is there.

In 1971 the American Group Psychotherapy Association set up a sub-committee on general system theory and group psychotherapy at the suggestion of one of the present contributors, Helen Durkin. And after a decade this book is, in effect, a report of that committee. The contributions are unfortunately uneven, though the Editor marshals his troops like the leader of a rather dishevelled platoon trying to hustle them into line.

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